26 August 2007

Giuliani's Thoughts

I picked up the September/October edition of Foreign Affairs today specifically to read extended essays by Giuliani and Edwards. The edition has part II of a series of essays by current presidential candidates (all of which can be found here), and I intend to go back and read part I – Romney and Obama. One thing about these that I like – they are extended essays. No half-page blurbs and quick escapes are necessary here. It seems that the candidates have plenty of space to say what they wish to say.

A few thoughts on Giuliani’s essay. Right out of the gate, he re-characterizes our current struggle as the “Terrorists War on Us.” It’s a well worded shift of paradigm. His point is to make clear that America did not seek out this war no matter what some folks may say (those who believe in the US as the source of evil in the world). He also argues quite effectively that we invited this war by withdrawing for various trouble spots – a point which he backs up with clear examples.

And that’s one of the best things about Giuliani’s essay. As I read through it, I didn’t find myself wading through visionary platitudes and epic lists of “America is” or “America isn’t”. His thoughts are clearly related and he doesn’t wander needlessly – which would be a symptom of using up space without adding substance (see previous topic on Geraldo Rivera).

Giuliani writes quite frankly about the failings of our State Department and the United Nations. He also gives some pretty clear ideas on how he would direct change with regard to these establishments. For the State Department he recommends changing more than just the organizational structure and expecting State diplomats to actually advocate US policies abroad. Funny how what should be obvious requires restating. Giuliani admits that the UN can do some things well, and then cuts to the chase.

“The organization can be useful for some humanitarian and peacekeeping functions, but we should not expect much more of it. The UN has proved irrelevant to the resolution of almost every major dispute of the last 50 years. Worse, it has failed to combat terrorism and human rights abuses.”

While he doesn’t say this directly, Giuliani seems to think that strengthening NATO with additional members from anywhere on the globe which fit the bill (democratic capitalist countries?) would better serve the purposes which the UN cannot live up to.

A few other statements which are as straight-forward as can be:

  • The U.S. Army needs a minimum of ten new combat brigades.
  • Members of Congress who talk directly to rogue regimes at cross-purposes with the White House are not practicing diplomacy; they are undermining it.
  • America's commitment to Israel's security is a permanent feature of our foreign policy.
  • The American ideals of freedom and democracy deserve stronger advocacy. And the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.
  • We will not shy away from any debate. And armed with honest advocacy, America will win the war of ideas.
I agree with all of these, and it’s very refreshing to read an extended statement of policy and vision from a politician which does not rely on pumping up hopes or stirring up fears, which doesn’t pander to one group or another. I came away from reading this essay with a clearer understanding of what a Giuliani presidency would be like and a much clearer understanding of at least some of his underlying principles.

And that’s an important thing in a president. While there will be a lot of talk about specific plans and remedies for current problems as the presidential campaign (that seems to have been going on for far too long already) moves along, it’s important to remember that the unknown, the unforeseen, is sometimes what defines a presidency. That is certainly true of President Bush (the current). It may very well be true of the next president. And considering Giuliani in that light alone, I believe – knowing what I know now – that I would be comfortable with him in the Oval Office.

25 August 2007

Three Kinds of People

This is just a quick thought that I had while I was walking home from work yesterday. The route home took me through a park where I've been trying to get myself back into an exercise routine, and I had been thinking all day about things to say to students as they enter my classroom this coming Monday. (Side note: I'll be teaching freshman English, so it's a bit of a work change from Australia - though I have been a teacher before.)

So as I walked through this park, I longed for the fitness group that I belonged to in Australia. It was very easy for me to get motivated for exercise when someone else was planning the activities and all I had to do was show up. And given my constant thinking about the first day of school, which is rapidly approaching, it occurred to me that I really like to have three kinds of people, specifically identifiable people, in my life to help me grow: one each for the body, mind and soul.

Not to get too philosophical, but I think that those three aspects cover everything and most people can't cover those areas themselves in a way which enrich and expand. Outside perspective is needed. It's not that I know this, but I certainly perceive it as I move from day to day, from activity to activity. And I hope that, as I move through life, I provide for one of these roles to some folks and that I'm fortunate enough to have them filled for me - and that I seek out good folks to rely on.

Enjoy the weekend.

24 August 2007

Geraldo Rivera – Verbal Bully Sidesteps Issues

I have to admit that I lost just about every ounce of what might be called respect for the “journalist” Mr. Rivera way back when he opened Al Capone’s vault. My opinion of him has continued to fall ever since. Last night’s discussion, if it can be called that, on Hannity and Colmes about sanctuary cities and illegal immigrants who repeatedly commit crimes pushed my opinion even lower. It also made me question again why FoxNews gives him air time, or indeed employs him at all.

The telltale signs that Mr. Rivera is a bully who can’t really argue a point are that he shouts over his adversaries as they attempt to address a contentious issue and that he continually changes the subject, the context and/or the background of the discussion.

Of course, television is the nearly perfect medium for these tactics. Mr. Rivera understands quite clearly that limited time is devoted to each segment so if he can raise the volume and “rope-a-dope” the argument with distracting switches he can control the screen, the discussion and possibly the impression left with the viewer.

During the “discussion,” Mr. Rivera loudly talked over Rep. Tom Tancredo and shifted examples and arguments in the hope, I assume, that Rep. Tancredo wouldn’t be able to gain his verbal footing. Rep. Tancredo attempted to make his points over the voice of Mr. Rivera, but to little avail. Holmes joined into the babble for effect. Mr. Rivera then over-talked Hannity (but note, Hannity does the same type of thing, as does Colmes) with an inane statement about illegal immigration being the big issue in the 2008 election. This is another tactic for time-wasting. Here’s something you can agree with…and more time burned.

These attempts to change the real focus of discussion are interesting because I feel that they belittle the mental capacity of the audience. By making the most tenuous of connections between the central, planned discussion and these purposefully distracting side-bars (which get more time, it seems), folks like Mr. Rivera show a clear belief that the audience can’t tell the difference between a stated, central issue and a time-burning distraction. The raised voice and interruptions are also an affront to the audience, and it’s an all too common practice on “news-opinion” shows. It’s a Springerization of serious discussion and a commentary (though certainly not the only one) on what some television personalities think of their viewers.

Post Script: One more thought on this subject. I think that there is a need, in some instances, to cut off folks when they are just spouting clear lies or bold-faced propaganda and doing so in a manner which obviously lacks self-control. In the interest of outward civility, I think that cutting to commercial and then returning to explain why an interview ended abruptly would go a long way to keeping debates civil and factual.

20 August 2007

Disconnects and Doublethink

It seems to me that there is a real disconnect in the mind of some politicians between the war in Iraq and the larger fight against Islamo-facists. Here’s a clip from an article in US News and World Report which smells of doublethink:

That's why all the major Democratic candidates are trying to convey a tough stance toward terrorism, while opposing the Iraq war. Clinton is trying to placate her party's anti-Iraq war left while at the same time appearing tough-minded about the threats facing the country. Her advisers say she is "antiwar and pro-defense," and concede she is well aware that a Democratic candidate in the general election has a special challenge to show strength.

First, the disconnect between the war in Iraq and the larger war, I believe, is largely to blame on the White House – all of it – not spending more time explaining how these things are linked. For a long time, only one opinion has been voiced, that there is no connection between the two and that the terrorism link is being used by President Bush to paper over the WMD non-find. That there isn’t a vigorous dissemination of information to counter this idea is disappointing and directly results in the above mentioned disconnect.

Second, that one candidate can be “antiwar and pro-defense” is politically expedient doublethink without question. Senator Clinton is not alone in pushing this “message.”

Being “antiwar” would seem to mean that fighting any aggressor is out of the question; it is pacifistic. On its own “antiwar” is a valid point of view (though highly problematic in my opinion…it only works until the pacifist is about to be killed brutally by some group who doesn’t share his or her view).

Being “pro-defense” attempts to bring national self-defense into the argument. Again, this is logical – defend the homeland. The trick here is that defensive fights seem to lend themselves more to attrition than to winning strategies (though I’m no military expert, so I could clearly be wrong). The question here is at what point does “pro-defense” jump the fence and become “pro-war”?

And that is the doublethink that the “antiwar-pro-defense-ers” should have to answer at some point. In doing so, they will probably go back to the first disconnect mentioned here and address that as well. And then the conversation might get interesting, as long as it’s not in 30 second sound bites.

18 August 2007

Greenery and Obstructions

While driving along the highway here in north Texas this morning, I noticed two things: the greenery and obstructions.

I know that I keep going on about differences between Australia and the US, but since I’ve returned they just keep creeping upon me at random times. This morning was one of those times.

So as my wife and I were driving, I recalled again just how dry everything seemed in Australia. I was particularly reminded of our travels to Canberra and Melbourne, where the brown landscape was overwhelming and the vegetation sparse. This was especially true around Melbourne – made even more striking when we flew into the city – where brown dirt and dryness stretched for as far as the eye could see, it seemed.

Contrast that landscape to north Texas, where everything seems a vibrant green. It hit me as soon as we drove away from the airport nearly two weeks ago, and I still can’t get over it. And what’s more, everything is green despite the fact that it has been over 100°F for well over a week, perhaps longer. It’s just crawling green here, and it is a lovely change of scenery.

But the other thing that I noticed this morning was, well to be honest, a bit of a blight on the surrounding green. I hadn’t noticed all that much in Australia, but the Aussies don’t have the desire to stack billboards along the highway like we Americans do. I can’t really recall a billboard on any drive of significance. And thinking back to travels just between Newcastle and Sydney, I think it made trip more enjoyable. I could, when not actively piloting the vehicle, simply look out at all of the interesting rock formations, the trees, the inlets - nature. Nothing came between the car window and the passing scenery. No shop screamed out “I’m Here!”

That’s not to say that a lack of billboards was a sublime thing. Try figuring out where to stop and eat or get gas (sorry, petrol) without any guidance whatsoever and it quickly becomes a crap shoot. But that aside, the lack of roadside advertising made for a more enjoyable ride. The near extinction of the billboard will probably never happen in the US, though the open green of north Texas coupled with a lack of billboards would be something to truly enjoy. At least there are places where this phenomenon exists.

Flying Bears

Just in case it has been missed in the mix of the Fed dropping interest rates, hurricanes in the Gulf and Atlantic and pre-season football, what might have been thought a relic of the Cold War is back again. Russian President Putin announced yesterday that his country would resume flying long-range bomber routes. Putin is quoted as saying, “We proceed from the assumption that our partners will view the resumption of flights of Russia's strategic aviation with understanding.” Understanding of what, exactly, he doesn’t say.

The article reports that the Russians will start flying these routes with Tu-160 and Tu-95MC bombers. The Tu-95MC is a version of the Bear that just about anyone who has read a Tom Clancy novel (the older ones, like Hunt for Red October) will recognize. The Tu-160 looks suspiciously like the B-1. I wonder where the Russians got the idea for that design…

Regardless, it seems to me that there are countries in the world who wish to flex their national muscle to protect their corner of the globe, which is all fine and good. National defense is a primary responsibility of any government. The military trajectories of nations around the globe, though, should cause us to think about our military and where the US should be in five to ten years. As other countries expand and strengthen their militaries, we must decide if the US military will expand and strengthen as well or if it can only be extended and stretched to meet the demands of an ever-changing world.

16 August 2007

Words Matter, or What’s in a Name?

A story popped up yesterday on various news sites (FoxNews feed here) about a bishop in the Netherlands, Tiny Muskens, suggesting that all religious people refer to God as “Allah”. He claims that this would ease relations between the faiths.

I see this is a huge suggestion of theological surrender. I’m not a professional theologian as I assume Mr. Muskens is, but it seems to me that at the very least there is a difference in ideas of the divine between Judeo-Christian traditions and the “religion” of Islamo-fascists, which by no means is inclusive of all Muslims. But the fact remains that the self-declared enemies of the West and of Judeo-Christian ideas pray to a divine being they call “Allah.” Why would I, as a person of the West and either a Jew or a Christian, capitulate to this enemy by changing how I refer to God?

Mr. Muskens’s suggestion then is really either appeasement or capitulation. If Christians, or in his case, Catholics, call God “Allah,” then perhaps the enemy won’t want to kill them any longer. Or perhaps because the same name is used, Mr. Muskens thinks that some sort of parlor trick can be pulled and the enemy won’t recognize the difference of faith as long as the same name for God is used. Does Mr. Muskens consider this deep theological thinking?

Apparently he thinks so, as his reason for capitulation is that God doesn’t care what humans call him (and I use him in the divinely ambiguous sense). That’s all fine and good, but such verbal appeasement doesn’t have much traction in the here and now. Proper names have meaning beyond their uttered syllables. I would have expected a man of the cloth to recognize that without hesitation, but it appears that Mr. Muskens suffers from an acute case of subcubitus terribilis (and I hope I got that Latin right).

14 August 2007

More Military Wisdom from Obama

Once again, Senator Barack Obama has opened his mouth and stuck his non-military boot into it. From The Examiner, Barack, while speaking about operations in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying, “We've got to get the job done there…and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”

Just to keep the score card up to date, Mr. Obama would meet with rouge leaders without preconditions, precipitously pull troops out of Iraq, invade Pakistan (if necessary and feasible based on intelligence – glad he has such faith in US intelligence), and now would put more troops in Afghanistan.

I’d like to hear what other plans Mr. Obama might pursue as Commander in Chief and how he would support them. Or is this all just swinging while blind?

A Video to Watch

I’ve just watched a very good video on YouTube, a medium that I am occasionally astounded by because there are a few (or more than a few) gems in there. This is about one of them. I found out about it from the FoxNews website, which also has a copy up for viewing. It reportedly was made more than a year ago and apparently by a Marine, or at the very least by someone who wanted to be seen as a Marine. It is a spoken-word poem (or others call it a rap, but it’s more poetic, I feel) about 9/11, the long war we’re in, fighting for freedom and what it means to be an American (or perhaps what it doesn’t mean).

Two things I noticed. First, this young man is passionate about his chosen profession (assuming he’s in the military) and understands quite clearly what the purpose of his service is. Those who do not understand what military service is all about might gain some insight from this video. Those who do understand military service will probably identify with this young man.

Second, the poem opens and closes with reference to different ethnic groups in the US and then collapses them all, rightly, into just one large group: Americans. It gives me great hope to see a young man dismiss ethnic labels quickly and with such clarity. We need to find out just where he learned this attitude, from whom he developed this positive attitude and identity. I have my guesses. You might as well.

The headline on the FoxNews article reads, “Who is this Mystery Man?” While it might be interesting to find out, I don’t think that his identity really matters. What matters more is his message. Unfortunately, if you happen to go to the YouTube sight you’ll probably see a number of disparaging comments left by viewers. How jaded some have become. How much do some need hope and purpose, and not just self-serving purpose but purpose larger than the self. And more than that, constructive rather than destructive. And once again, where do people get hope and purpose from?

13 August 2007

One Week In

In my media black hole (which ended today…I am re-wired now) there are probably many big, huge, momentous things happening and I’ve missed them all. That is until I turned on the news, fired up Drudge and got reconnected. Some important, some not so. But here are a few things that I’ve noticed in the week that I’ve been back in this great land.

There are a lot of obese Americans. Stunningly so. In fact, I’m not shocked by the headline on Drudge that says America is slipping down the scale in life expectancy. Not shocked at all. Just one aspect of America that needs a serious paradigm shift, I think. But maybe that’s just me.

Food here is cheap, and I mean really cheap. (Portion sizes are huge, probably in some weird ratio with the cost of food. Here’s for more expensive food.) But seriously, we were paying as high as about $11 dollars for a kilo of bananas in Australia, which can be linked to some serious storms there. But still, $11 is a lot of money. Yesterday bananas were on special at a local store, three pounds for a dollar. I, of course, bought some. I didn’t a single banana that cost less than a dollar while in Australia. Here I’ve eaten three in the last two days and still have change left over. I’ll have to investigate more to see if the trend continues. I think it will.

The roads are wide, especially here in Texas. The parking spots are as well. We bought a pretty small car, and yet I could probably park 1 ¾ of the model in just one of these parking spots. In fact, just about everything seems roomier in the States. I don’t think this is directly related to my first point in any way whatsoever.

OK, a little bit lighter type of post to be sure. Perhaps I’ll get more serious in the days to come as I am tempted to become re-saturated in both what I would like American culture to be about and what it really is.

And just as a parting shot, the best line I’ve heard in the last month or so comes from the Dennis Miller radio show: “I’m not saying nothing about nothing until Petraeus gets back.”

10 August 2007

Being Professional

I read something on Neal Boortz’s website on Wednesday (yes, I did end up surfing the news a bit – but just FoxNews and Boortz), linked to the actual article, where Newt Gingrich calls Hillary Clinton a “formidable professional.” Boortz, a little reluctantly, agrees that it’s true.

Of course it is. Claiming, somehow, that Clinton is a novice would be just as wrong-headed as claiming that Bush is a dunce. Both statements attempt to avoid addressing the person by belittling his or her individual characteristics. But addressing the person and their actions is exactly what is needed in this, or any other, political campaign. It is needed even more so in this particular political season which seems as if it will never end.

In this endless political season there is a sense that what a candidate says at the moment is more important than positions taken in the past. The sound-bytes thrown around belie what really deserves examination: candidates positions on very important issues at the time. Anyone can claim a position in retrospect – I was for/against the war/troops, I would/would not have taken such action, I would/would not have taken a given position. It’s much more difficult, as some candidates are finding out, to live down what they’ve already done.

Since I’m off the ‘net while writing this, I can’t supply ample evidence for this, but I would bet that left-leaning folks would be shocked and amazed at just how hawkish Senator Clinton was during her time as First Lady. It would be interesting to hear her views on the whys and wherefores of Desert Fox, Allied Force, Haiti, etc. What were her feelings and views at the time of these operations? That would be better evidence of her potential leadership (as Commander-in-Chief, anyway) than any number of sound-bytes from the here and now. Her views on healthcare would be a good indication of how she would really handle domestic policy.

And I don’t mean to single out Senator Clinton only. I think that it’s true of all of the candidates. And I’m not talking about digging up dirt on anyone, either. More an honest evaluation of where these candidates have been, what they thought at the time during major events, and why they felt that way. If a candidate wants to attempt to convince folks that he or she would now take a different course, that’s fine – give it a shot. But the past is important and shouldn’t be buried by either side through sound-bytes or invective.

08 August 2007

News Disconnect

Just a quick thought on life without ready access to news. The only news that I've looked at since I left Sydney has been a quick glance at Druge earlier today. I gather that a lot of rain has fallen in the New York / New Jersey area. Otherwise as far as I know nothing of note has come and gone.

I thought of this yesterday when, in a jet-lagged haze, my wife mentioned that if anything big happened in the world, we wouldn't know. While that probably isn't exactly true (we both have cell phones - someone would have called us), it's also not really a bad thing. I really don't need to know what is going on from minute to minute, or from hour to hour, in the world.

That leaves lots of time and space to think, to live, to consider, to talk and to relax. It's been odd living a little more disconnected, but it hasn't been bad. Perhaps I'll have to pop a self-imposed filter on my internet use and television consumption. Perhaps less is more. It sure feels that way at the moment.

The Long Trip Home

Since this may very well be the last trip across the water, at least this water and to and from Australia, I thought I might want to keep a little log of just how this travel goes. I’ve tried to stick to US Central time and note the Australian time where appropriate.

Sunday, 5 August, Midnight (Sunday afternoon in Newcaslte, 3p.m.) – The journey gets off to a rocky start. Happy Cabby, the alternative to taking the train from Newcastle or flying from Williamtown, has shown up to my place with a flat tire. I chose to call Happy Cabby because I didn’t want to haul my 100 pounds of luggage from train to train and through Central Station and because AeroPelican, the local airline, would have a heart attack if I tried to bring so much onto one of their 18-seat puddle-jumpers. I realize though, as I watch the Happy Cabby driver pace back and forth between the van to a backpacker’s hostel that I really should have just rented a car and driven to Sydney myself. We wait for NMRA (Australian equivalent to AAA) to show up to fix change the tire, which they do, and we’re on the road at twenty minutes after the hour. I wonder what happens if on the way to Sydney we get another flat. Will the driver call NRMA, pace around and apologize for missed flights? Thankfully, I won’t have that question answered. An hour more and the van is filled to capacity. We’re finally on the way towards the airport – 1:20a.m. Central.

Sunday, 5 August, 3:50a.m. (Sunday evening in Sydney) – We finally arrive at the Sydney Holiday Inn near the airport where I’ve spent many a night before flying back to the US. The check-in process is fairly painless – much less painless than the drive down which was scary and slow, but at least not both at the same time. I get a quick, short workout in just to take the knots out from the drive and grab a quick bite to eat. The bar/restaurant in the hotel is quite good and has very friendly service. But I tend to confuse the wait staff a little with my order, which is a burger with just bun, meat and cheese. This always seems to throw folks in Australia, probably because they stack their burgers with everything but the kitchen sink. Fried egg? Sure. Beetroot? Absolutely. Plain…are you serious? After enjoying one of the last two flat whites I’ll have here, I retire to my room and watch a horribly predictable Hollywood film. I try to stay up as late as I can, but as it’s already been a long day (I woke up at 5:30a.m. in Newcastle) I can only make it until 8a.m. Central (11p.m. Sydney).

Sunday, 5 August, 1:30p.m. (Sydney Monday morning, 4:30) – One thing that I try to do when I travel from west to east is to start the trip tired. Going east, jet lag is just horrible. I figure that if I can somehow wake up tired and stay awake until something approaching night time in the US, I’ll have a better time of it when it all shakes out. So I wake, shower, repack, and wait for the airport shuttle trip at 3p.m. (6a.m. Sydney). Thankfully I’ve got US television as a diversion. I start on Meet the Press, but quickly get disgusted by some dude shamelessly plugging Obama’s naiveté as a virtue (seems he’s written a book on the subject) and happen upon the race at Pocono, live. At 2:45 Central time, I check out and hit the bus, on time, ready to be first in line at the Qantas counter. There’s a reason for this.

Sunday, 5 August, 3:15p.m. (Sydney Monday morning, 6:15) – When I called Qantas this past Monday to see if I could set my seat on the flight, I was told that seat bookings open 6 months before the flight date and close when they hit 70% of the flight. I’ve made the hop 3 other times on Qantas and this is the first time I’ve been told this…and I’ve asked. So I felt the need to get to the counter particularly early to make sure that I could get the seat I wanted – on the aisle in the center of the aircraft. My co-worker figured this one out, and it’s a gem. If the flight isn’t full, then the center seats are the last to be filled as no one wants them. If the flight is full, at least there is only one person asking to crawl over me when we’re in the depths of the 12+ hour flight. It’s a win-win. I flew in a window seat twice and regretted it both times. I felt trapped on the window and just prayed that I would sleep the whole way. It worked once. The other, well, I don’t care to do that again. Anyway, I get the seat I want, albeit in the back of the jet, pass through security and get some breakfast – and a last flat white. Boarding time is 6:50p.m. (9:50a.m. Sydney). The good thing about riding in the back of the jet is that there is usually plenty of overhead space for baggage. The downside is that the effect of turbulence is greater and, needless to say, first on, last off.

Sunday, 5 August, 7:45p.m. (Sydney Monday morning, 10:45) – It may just be one of those trips that is a string of delays. We took off 25 minutes late because we had to wait for a passenger. Not that I don’t think we should have waited…I would like that if I were that person. But my hopes of making up the time in the air seem to be snuffed as the pilot slips the arrival time by 25 minutes. My goal of being tired is not working. I’m wide awake.

Monday, 6 August, 7:45a.m. – Landed at LAX. My sleep plan didn’t work out at all. I might have managed 3 hours of sleep during the flight, which is unfortunately even less than I usually manage on an eastern leg. The crazy thing about going from Sydney to LA (or San Francisco, for that matter) is that the flight lands before it takes off. I actually gained about four hours of “time,” but I don’t feel it at all. The fact that it is almost 11p.m. in Sydney is all too clear to me. Thankfully, after a long wait for my bags, customs is a breeze and even re-accomplishing the security procedures is relatively painless – though I really don’t understand why shoes are still being x-rayed. After making it to the gate, with some really bad coffee (from America’s biggest coffee chain) in tow, perhaps it’s time for an hours count. I think it’s 18 hours and 15 minutes since I woke up at the hotel in Sydney, but my math-in-publics skills may be suffering from jet lag as well. I’ve got a nice low-grade headache from the lack of sleep as well, and I may have reached my maximum daily allowance of fun. One more flight, fall into the loving care of my wife, a drive to the new home, and this long, long day will be done.

Monday, 6 August, 2:40p.m. – Landed at Dallas / Fort Worth, and the travel is finished. This flight, thankfully, took off and landed on time. I easily found my wife waiting for me in the baggage claim area, and we eventually made our way to our new home (or apartment, as the case may be). It has been 25 hours and 10 minutes since I woke up in Sydney. I haven’t managed to get more than an hour of sleep at any time, and maybe just 4 or 5 in total. (In fact as I write this portion, it is 2:30a.m. on Tuesday, and I managed to get just 4 hours of sleep before my body decided that it really should be awake at this point.) But the pain of traveling is just part of the process. I am home now, and thankful to be.

04 August 2007

Last Post from Australia

One more time to wake up in Australia. Tomorrow I’ll be on a Qantas 747 bound for the US. I took my last long beachside walk yesterday, circling from Newcastle Beach out to Bar Beach and back again, then to Nobby’s and the breakwater. This morning, as it was colder and much more windy than yesterday, I decided to have my last breakfast at Atlas. And now, at about 1400, I’ve just had my last meal in Newcastle – PB-n-J and a couple of apples. (As my wife reads this at some time, somewhere in the future, she cringes.)

Of course, none of this really matters to anyone who might be reading this. But for me, it’s a break in the regularity of what life has been over the past 19 months. I may never get the chance to come to this side of the earth again. It has been interesting, but I’m thankful that it has come to an end. Australia has been great, but I’m looking forward to returning to the US. I’ll have to learn how to make a flat white for myself and I’ll really miss being right on the ocean. But in the end, this just isn’t home.

I’ll be off for about a week, then, as de-jetlag and get re-acclimated. I’ll be back in about a week. Hopefully nothing eventful happens. Sometimes, many times, it’s far better when things are “boring.”

Senator Dodd and Mob Rule

This morning I watched the exchange between Bill O’Reilly and Senator Chris Dodd which I believe aired on the 3rd of August. It concerned, as has many of O’Reilly’s opening shots recently, the Daily Kos website. It seems that there’s a ton of needless and pointless invective on that site. I can’t comment on it directly. I don’t think I’d get much out of reading anything on the Kos site and won’t waste my time finding out if my guess is correct. My life will not be lessened by my assumption.

The one thing that struck me about Senator Dodd’s comments was his insistence that the Kos site is a valid, viable medium simply because so many people post their views on it. Through this line of thinking, mob rule would do just fine by Mr. Dodd. Bad behavior is justified simply because so many are in a given place at a given time, regardless of how many actually participate in the bad behavior.

By Senator Dodd’s logic, any website with adequate levels of participation should be free to harbor whatever hate people care to spew. I won’t list the obvious “high viewership” possibilities that come to mind.

What bothers me is that Senator Dodd and other presidential hopefuls have spent time and effort to go to Chicago and participate in the yearly Kos gathering, thereby giving public support to the content of the site.

The web abounds with off-the-cuff commentary and angry writer, many anonymous. It is sometimes the practical voice of various mobs. It asks us, through various strident voices, to tune out reason and buy into emotion. That politicians appear to support websites of the angry mob is troubling at the very least.

As “consumers” of content, we should ask ourselves just how far we want our leaders to venture into the land of mob rule and if we trust them to keep their heads about them. Will they fall in line with those angry voices; toe the line of the emotionally driven (which exist throughout the political spectrum)? And what should the public answer be to those who do? Do we really want to be governed by emotion?

01 August 2007

All Over the Map

I’ve really tried not to think too much about the next presidential election so far, and have resisted the urge to write much about it. I read a fair bit, I’ve watched a couple of the debates, I’ve listened to commentary about the debates as well, but it all seems way too early to put too much effort into it.

In the last few days though, I’ve had to do a few double-takes on what Senator Obama has said, particularly with respect to foreign policy. During the “YouTube” debate, he quickly and forcibly said that he would meet, without preconditions, leaders of rouge states (North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran). Then I read this morning that he would send troops into Pakistan to take out high-value targets as long as there is actionable intelligence.

The long and short of these stances is that he would make light and friendly with those who pledge to do harm to the US and its allies (Iran repeatedly calls for the destruction of Israel). He would offer himself up, as president, to possible/probable manipulation through propaganda while making nice with these rouge states. Then he would use military force inside of what can best be described as a dictatorship which is at least helping the US in the war on terror, even as that dictatorship pushes its fate within its own borders. And that doesn’t even begin to broach the nuclear issue.

I won’t touch on the domestic at the moment. That’s another whole can of worms and worm-dirt.

It’s all naïve at best. Folks who think that Bush’s naïveté has damaged the US would do well to think about the effects of someone like Senator Obama on America’s standing in the world. We now know what to expect – he’s told us in plain language.

Two More Things I'll Miss

Just a quick note, as I continue to make my exit from Australia, on a few more things that I’ll miss.

These two are linked, but only in that they are both about food and drink. I’ll miss what seems to be an endless string of non-chain restaurants. I’m not talking about fast food joints, but rather sit-down restaurants. Whereas in the US we have what seems to be the standard set of chain restaurants in a given area – most of which are fairly consistent and deliver a predictable menu (which for me is a good thing), Newcastle offers owner operated, single site joints, each with its own menu. From my limited travels in the country, other cities have much the same thing. I’ll miss the restaurants greatly.

Related to the restaurant aspect (and somewhat closer to my heart) is the ubiquitous coffee shop. And while there is really one major chain coffee shop in Australia (and it’s not Starbucks), I rarely go there. But I’ll pop into just about any coffee shop for a flat white and a sit-and-read. Most have outside seating and serve deserts or small snacks as well. They’re great pit stop places, spots to enjoy a good cup of coffee without all the over-commercialization that the chain store offers.